Men’s tennis loses doubles, rallies to sink Vols in singles

By Jim Shay

If the weekend was any indication of things to come for the men’s tennis team, then there is no telling what it can achieve.

The team wrapped up an impressive weekend series with a 4-3 victory on Saturday night over a No. 41 Tennessee squad that came out gunning for the seventh-ranked Illini. The visiting Volunteers, who field two nationally ranked doubles teams, flexed their muscles by winning the doubles competition. Senior GD Jones and sophomore Marc Spicijaric were the only Illini duo to pull off a victory, topping Tennessee’s Kiril Tcherveniachki and Davey Sandgren 8-2.

Head coach Brad Dancer, however, said he believed the doubles loss would be beneficial to the team in the long run.

“I definitely was worried going into singles,” Dancer said. “Tennessee played very aggressive and were all over the net. We got a little lesson taught to us in doubles (Saturday), which we needed in some respect. I’m sure it’ll sharpen these guys up a little bit.”

Not to be discouraged by the unfavorable start, the Illini quickly came back in singles play and showed Tennessee why they are a top-10 team.

Thanks to a dominating performance by junior Ryan Rowe, who dispatched his opponent Kaden Hensel in straight sets (6-3, 6-3), and a hard fought win by junior Kevin Anderson (6-2, 7-5), the momentum rushed to Illinois.

But the most heroic performance of the night once again came from Spicijaric’s court. Showing endurance throughout a gritty match, the sophomore shook off multiple long rallies and capitalized on his opponent’s errors at just the right moments in a 6-4, 6-4 victory that sealed the win for the Illini.

The win was a microcosm of the team’s mental and physical endurance, Spicijaric said, as well as a testament to how important the weekend’s matches were in the long run.

“This weekend has been a tremendous confidence boost for us,” Spicijaric said. “We showed our toughness and resiliency. (Against Duke), everybody was down but we never stopped fighting. We lost the doubles point (Saturday) and had our backs against the wall, but we showed our confidence and mental toughness by coming out and taking care of business.”

Anderson shared a similar reflection on the weekend, but admitted that the team still need some fine-tuning.

“I think both matches have been a testament to the way we’ve been training and keeping mentally tough,” Anderson said. “It was great to get the two wins this weekend. There were a lot of positives, but there’s a lot we still need to work on.”